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This is Cruise Origin – a self-driving EV to kill Uber, Lyft and car ownership altogether

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Cruise doesn’t want to sell you an autonomous car, just rent you a seat in one, and the Cruise Origin is the self-driving electric vehicle it believes will coax drivers out from behind the steering wheel. Handiwork of Cruise, General Motors, and Honda, the Origin is no hopeful concept, the trio insists, but an actual production vehicle that will soon be plying the roads.

While GM and Honda may have made their fortunes on the idea of selling – or at least leasing – cars and trucks to individuals and companies, Cruise’s concept is very different. Origin will be owned by Cruise, and operated as a ride-hailing service. You’ll summon one of the pods via the Cruise app, available 24/7.

There are some strong financial arguments for that, Cruise argues. In San Francisco for example – where the company has been running a fleet of prototypes for several years now, covering almost a million miles collectively over the past twelve months alone – Cruise estimates that the average person could save $5,000 per year using Origin, rather than having their own car or using traditional ride-sharing services.

An all-electric pod purpose-built for carrying people

Cruise Origin looks big at first glance, but the company says it’s actually akin to a regularly-sized SUV. The difference, of course, is that regular SUVs have to accommodate all the traditional components that come with an internal combustion vehicle, and a human pilot. That means an engine, a place to store fuel, and physical controls like a wheel and pedals.

Origin has electric motors, pushed out to the edges of the vehicle, and batteries under the floor. With no user-facing controls whatsoever, it means the whole interior can be dedicated to seating. Two spacious benches, facing each other, but with no shortage of legroom in-between.

Each seat gets a bank of ports to charge their phone or other devices; two displays hanging from the roof show status messages, give you a schedule of pick-ups and drop-offs, and remind you to buckle up. Cruise opted for sliding doors rather than hinged, not just because they look cool but because they won’t swing out and inadvertently smack cyclists off their bikes.

Displays on the outside corners can show a number, making it easier to identify which Origin is yours after you order it. The bodywork is modular, so it can be easily repaired if it gets scuffed or should another vehicle crash into it. Indeed modularity plays a big part in the vehicle as a whole, for the redundant powertrain, sensor, and compute suites, which also allow Cruise to progressively update its fleet rather than having to scrap older generations as the technology improves.

Cruise software with GM and Honda engineering

In this first-generation, Origin uses a number of homegrown sensors. Most striking are the two standing up on the upper front corners of the pod, like flat-faced owls. Each can rapidly rotate, to keep different potential obstacles or other challenges – like pedestrians or cyclists – in view. They can see in pitch-black, too.

More sensors stud the glossy black bodywork around the car, pushing up into the orange roof panel. They’re not invisible, certainly, but neither are they as goofy as the spinning LIDAR sensors we’ve seen on top of many autonomous vehicle prototypes.

Those traditional sensors typically contribute to the sky-high price of actually building an autonomous car. Cruise, though, is counting on things like owner General Motor’s economies of scale to do the trick there. Indeed, it suggests that for the cost of a typical electric SUV – it flashed up a picture of a Tesla Model X by comparison – you could have two Origin.

The self-driving pod should last longer, too. Cruise says it’s expecting over a one million mile lifespan, though of course since Origin can be trundling around cities 24/7 – except when it’s recharging – it should crunch through those miles a lot faster than traditional vehicles. They’re often only getting utilized 5-percent of the time.

Plenty of promises, plenty of questions

Cruise is excited, just like lots of companies promising autonomous cars are excited. Certainly there’s a lot of appeal in what Origin represents. Calling up a car and not having to make awkward conversation with an Uber or Lyft driver; and not having to worry about them being a safe driver or knowing your route.

At the same time, there are plenty of lingering questions, too. Cruise says it wants to make Origin affordable, but it’s unclear how much rides in the autonomous EV might actually cost. Range, charging infrastructure, how the pods will be maintained, and where they’ll live when that’s all happening is also to be confirmed.

Most importantly, Cruise isn’t saying when, exactly, it expects to launch its ride-hailing service. Origin, it insists, is real, and there’ll be an announcement soon about where it’s being built, but they’re all details for further down the line. So, too, are the teasing suggestions of a cargo version, which would swap passenger space for boxes.

The other lingering question is whether, even as a shared service, individual driverless pods like Origin are truly the answer to urban congestion. Look past the glossy plastic and studded sensors, and it’s not hard to see Origin as a little bus. There’s a lingering – and not unfair – sense that many people, and Silicon Valley in particular, are still set on reinventing the wheel, when their billions in investment might be better spent on upgrading public transit infrastructure that has long gone neglected by cash-strapped cities.

It’s unclear whether even the fanciest bus or train would compel dedicated car-owners to give up their keys. Perhaps, then, Cruise’s Origin is a way to at least loosen their grip on them. The oddball pod will need to get wheels on the asphalt before we know just how likely that really is.

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Toyota foils leakers by offering an official image of the 2022 Tundra

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Earlier this week, leaked images were going around claiming to show the next generation 2022 Toyota Tundra. Automakers never like leaks, and often they simply deny that the images are of their vehicle or ignore the leak altogether. However, Toyota used a different tactic when images of its 2022 Tundra leaked, choosing to release an official image of the truck.

2022 Tundra TRD Pro

With Toyota’s move, talk of the 2022 Tundra has moved from the leaked images to Toyota’s official image. However, it’s worth noting that Toyota only offered a single image of the TRD Pro version of the Tundra and offered no details on the truck. Last month, SlashGear posted a review of the 2021 Tundra TRD Pro, highlighting that it was the last hurrah for the current generation of the truck.

However, it does offer a nice opportunity for us to compare the exterior of the 2021 model to the 2022 model. What we see is significant changes on the exterior of the truck. While the overall profile remains virtually the same, the 2022 has a completely new front end that closely resembles the style used on the Tacoma and 4Runner SUV. That means a large black grille with hexagonal openings and bulky Toyota branding on the grille.

It’s unclear if non-TRD Pro versions will have the same front-end treatment. Another interesting tidbit that is easily seen from the official Toyota photograph is that the truck is equipped with an LED light bar underneath the Toyota logo in the grill and what appear to be LEDs underneath the grill on the front black portion of the bumper. The headlights are much smaller and appear to be LED.

2021 Tundra TRD Pro

The truck has modest black fender extensions and rolls on very attractive black wheels. We also note that the truck has integrated sidesteps to make it easier to get in and out. Unfortunately, there’s no indication of what changes might have been made to the interior or under the hood of the truck at this time.

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Ford to purchase Electriphi for integration with Ford Pro services for EV fleets

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Ford has announced it will purchase Electriphi, a California-based provider of charging management and fleet monitoring software for electric vehicles. Ford intends to integrate Electriphi capabilities with its Ford Pro services to develop advanced charging and energy management experiences for commercial users. Many large commercial fleet operators are actively transitioning from combustion-powered vehicles to electric vehicles, and managing charging is a significant challenge.

Ford believes that the acquisition of Electriphi will help spur the adoption of the new F-150 Lightning Pro and E-Transit van by fleet operators around the country and the world. The automaker also notes that the acquisition is part of its plan to invest more than $30 billion by 2025 to enable it to lead in electrification for both commercial and retail customers.

Ford Pro is a new global business within Ford designed to help improve commercial customer productivity and develop advanced charging and energy management services. Charging infrastructure and managing charging capabilities for large fleets of electric vehicles is seen as one of the biggest challenges to the adoption of electric vehicles by commercial users. Ford Pro estimates that the depot charging industry will grow to over 600,000 full-size trucks and vans by 2030.

Ford Pro expects to have over $1 billion in revenue from charging by 2030. Ford’s full-electric E-Transit van is currently scheduled to begin shipping later this year, and the F-150 Lightning Pro will begin shipping in the spring of 2022. Electriphi had a team of over 30 employees, and the software they developed is designed to simplify the electrification of fleets, save energy cost, and track critical metrics like the real-time status of vehicles, chargers, and maintenance services. Ford expects to close the acquisition this month at undisclosed terms. Ford Pro will begin for customers in North America, but it will launch in Europe later.

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2021 Volkswagen Jetta Review: Sober Value

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Volkswagen would probably call the 2021 Jetta “pragmatic,” and rationality certainly is the name of the game for one of the most affordable cars on the market right now. A mainstay of the compact sedan segment since 1979, the Jetta always promised a balance between the playful Golf and the grown-up Passat. These days, though, the Jetta may have matured a little too far.

Much as with the Golf in the US, VW has pared back the Jetta configurations to a single engine. In fact it’s the same engine: a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, with 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The cheapest 2021 Jetta, the S trim from $18,995 (plus $995 destination), comes with a six-speed manual. So, too, does the $22,795 Jetta R-Line.

Otherwise you get an eight-speed automatic, with front-wheel drive across the board. In the case of my 2021 Jetta SEL Premium – the swankiest Volkswagen offers – it pushes pricing to $28,045 plus destination. Part of that is the Cold Weather Package, which is $500 on lesser trims, and the equally priced Driver-Assistance Package.

All Jetta get LED front and rear lights, and R-Line and above upgrade the 16-inch alloy wheels to 17-inch versions. SE and above have heated side mirrors and a panoramic power sunroof. SE and above get dual-zone automatic climate control and heated front seats; cars with the Cold Weather Package have a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats. Only the SEL Premium has actual leather upholstery, though.

On the safety side, automatic post-collision braking is standard across the board, while SE and above get forward collision warnings with emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alerts. SEL and SEL Premium cars throw in adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assistance.

The Jetta may have the same engine as the 2021 Golf, but the end result still feels fairly different. The Golf has, of course, near-sublime chassis tuning, and is altogether more eager with its 147 horses. Even with the same platform underneath, the Jetta plays things a little more grown-up. It’s surprisingly zippy from a standing start, easily pulling away, but corners see more body roll and the steering is dialed in light.

I suspect that’s what Jetta owners like, though, and certainly it’s a relaxed and unchallenging experience from behind the wheel. The Jetta GLI promises a few more thrills, thanks in no small part to its active damping, but this regular car is unlikely to get your heart rate up.

The same could be said for the cabin, which is dark and sober enough that you could assume Volkswagen is going through its goth phase. Matte black plastics sit alongside gloss black plastics, and the sprinkling of dark silver trim around the clusters of controls isn’t enough to lift the interior out of its somber monochrome.

The switchgear feels good, but the rest of the plastics are only middling, and all the button blanks around the transmission shifter are a reminder that even in SEL Premium form you don’t get a huge number of toys. The 8-inch touchscreen on SEL and SEL Premium trims now runs MIB3, a newer version of VW’s infotainment system; S, SE, and R-Line cars get a 6.5-inch touchscreen and the older MIB2. So, too, the two highest trims pack the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, with a screen replacing the analog gauges.

MIB3 is clean and easy to use, though VW’s graphics don’t stray from the pallid aesthetic of the rest of the interior. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus a wireless charging pad, and both SEL and SEL Premium cars get a 400 watt Beats Audio system with eight speakers and a subwoofer. There’s a surprising degree of bass from that, along with two USB-C ports.

Where the Jetta does stand out – including against the Golf – is in economy. The EPA says you’ll get the same 29 mpg in the city, but highway driving is rated for up to 39 mpg (versus the Golf’s 36 mpg) for a single point advantage at 33 mpg combined. In practice, it’s not difficult to meet those figures either, not least because the Jetta doesn’t especially encourage profligate manners behind the wheel. Highway driving in particular feels tuned for steady plodding rather than anything approaching urgency.

Practicality tips things back in the Golf’s favor, with the Jetta offering 14.1 cu-ft of trunk space versus its hatchback cousin’s 17.4 cu-ft. Still, it feels bigger than that, there’s a 60/40 split rear seat, and adult passengers back there only had a slight dip in headroom to complain about. A four-year/50,000 mile warranty is a little more generous than what many in the category are offering.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Verdict

I’ve said it before: VW’s attentions seem to be on its electrification strategy and the ID range, and that leaves cars like the 2021 Jetta out in the shadows. The compact sedan isn’t a bad car, just an unmemorable one, and the problem there is that it finds itself with competition that rival automakers are taking a lot more seriously.

The new 2022 Honda Civic Sedan, for example, is similarly priced but has a fantastic cabin and is more rewarding dynamically. The Mazda3 has beguiling looks and is far more enjoyable to drive than the Jetta. There’s not really anything objectively wrong with Volkswagen’s car, and those on an extreme budget might find its lesser-equipped trims appealing, but even those who think of their vehicles as appliances will find more to appreciate elsewhere.

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